Dozens of Israeli tanks and armored vehicles backed by attack aircraft have invaded the Gaza Strip in the largest Israeli military operation in the area in months. The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reports Israeli forces have killed at least eight Palestinians. The Israeli raid comes a day before Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Ehud Olmert hold their first set of talks since the Annapolis summit.
The New York Times is reporting lawyers within the clandestine branch of the CIA gave written approval to the destruction in 2005 of hundreds of hours of videotapes documenting interrogations of two prisoners at secret CIA prisons. Today CIA director Gen. Michael Hayden is scheduled to appear before a closed session of the Senate Intelligence Committee to answer questions about the destruction of the tapes.
A leader of the CIA team that conducted one of the videotaped interrogations has admitted the CIA tortured the al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah. Retired CIA agent John Kiriakou said subjecting Zubaydah to waterboarding was torture but necessary. Kiriakou told ABC News that Zubaydah began to cooperate with interrogators after he was waterboarded.
The state of New Jersey has taken a major step toward becoming the first state to abolish the death penalty in more than forty years. On Monday, the State Senate voted to replace the death sentence with life without parole. The bill has support from New Jersey’s Democratic-controlled Assembly and Democratic Governor Jon Corzine. Earlier this year a special state commission determined the death penalty was a more expensive sentence than life in prison and has not deterred murder.
The Canadian press baron Conrad Black has been sentenced to six-and-a-half years in jail for fleecing millions of dollars from shareholders of his company Hollinger International. Black’s media empire included the Daily Telegraph in London, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Jerusalem Post, National Post in Canada, and 400 other newspapers. Black was also ordered to return $6.1 million and pay a $125,000 fine. US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said he hoped Black’s sentencing will send a message to corporate America.
Patrick Fitzgerald: “We’re gratified that what happened in the court today should send a message to people who would even think about corporate fraud. Conrad Black was sentenced to six-and-a-half years. Anyone else who would think about stealing money from shareholders by taking money without permission, by committing fraud and deceiving shareholders, should think very, very seriously about the consequences that happened to Black.”
Black remains free on bail until March 3, when he will report to prison.
In legal news, the federal sentencing committee is meeting today in light of the Supreme Court ruling on Monday that federal judges can ignore sentencing guidelines and impose shorter sentences for crack cocaine crimes to make them more in line with those for powder cocaine. The sentencing panel will decide whether to retroactively reduce crack sentences in a move that could cut prison time for more than 19,000 prisoners. Under the current guidelines, possession of five grams of crack triggers a five-year mandatory sentence, while it would take 100 times that amount to trigger a similar five-year mandatory sentence for possession of powder cocaine, which is essentially the same drug in a different form. The disparity has been challenged by civil rights groups because crack is more often used by African Americans, powder cocaine by whites.
A woman in Houston, Texas has sued the company Halliburton and its former subsidiary KBR after she says she was gang-raped by employees of the company in Baghdad. Jamie Leigh Jones, who was working for KBR at the time, says she was raped by multiple men at a KBR camp in the Green Zone. Jones accuses the company and the US government of covering up the incident. Jones told ABC News that after she was raped, the company put her in a shipping container without food or water for at least twenty-four hours. She was also warned that if she left Iraq for medical treatment, she’d be out of a job. No one has been prosecuted for the rape. ABC News reported the alleged assailants will likely never face a judge and jury, due to a loophole that has effectively left contractors in Iraq beyond the reach of United States law.
US-backed Afghan President Hamid Karzai is calling on the international community to send more troops to fight in Afghanistan.
Hamid Karzai : “At the same time, we would like to have the international community continue to add to the building of the Afghan forces, continue to add to the Afghanization of this whole exercise, so that Afghanistan can be ready in time to take on the responsibility of defending the Afghan country with Afghan institutions and Afghan ability.”
Karzai spoke in Kabul during a meeting with visiting British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
In Algeria, at least forty-seven people have died in two bomb blasts in the capital, Algiers. One of the blasts destroyed part of the United Nations offices.
In news from Washington, Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby has dropped his appeal in a perjury case stemming from the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame. Libby was found guilty in March of lying and obstructing an investigation into who blew Plame’s cover after her husband Joseph Wilson criticized the Iraq war. President Bush commuted Libby’s two-and-a-half-year prison sentence in July, but Libby still had to pay a $250,000 fine. President Bush has not ruled out a full pardon for Libby.
A new report from Human Rights Watch says the crackdown by the military junta in Burma on pro-democracy protests in September was far deadlier than Burmese officials have let on.
Steve Crawshaw, the United Nations Advocacy Director at Human Rights Watch: “What we’ve seen is a horrendous series of killings and brutality with both live bullets and beatings during the protests of the last couple of months. The government says everything is back to normal. Our report makes it clear that that is absolutely not the case. Arrests are continuing, and we’ve seen a series of very brutal actions, which I think the world really needs to wake up to.”
Human Rights Watch documented at least twenty deaths of students, civilians and Buddhist monks in Rangoon but said that many more were likely to have died in Burma’s main city and nationwide. Official Burmese media have admitted that ten people died in the crackdown, including a Japanese video journalist shot dead at point-blank range.
In Arizona, a Catholic priest and a retired Catholic lay leader have been jailed without bail for taking part in a nonviolent protest against US torture practices outside Fort Huachuca, home of the US Army Intelligence Center and School. A judge ordered Father Jerry Zawada and Betsy Lamb to remain in jail because they had failed to heed orders in other cases. In October, two other Catholic priests, Steve Kelly and Louie Vitale, were sentenced to five months in prison for taking part in another anti-torture protest at Fort Huachuca.
And South Korea is continuing to fight the worst oil spill in the country’s history four days after over 10,000 tons of crude oil leaked from a Hong Kong ship. Oil has now washed up along more than twenty-five miles of the Korean peninsula’s west coast.
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